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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Supreme Court insists requiring association membership to practice medicine is unconstitutional

El presidente del Colegio de Médicos, Carlos Díaz Vélez

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its October ruling that declared the requirement of compulsory membership to an association to practice medicine unconstitutional.

In this regard, the Supreme Court justified its decision in 2023, expressing that although the state has a compelling interest in regulating the practice of medicine to protect public health, mandatory membership is not necessary to achieve the objective.

“There is no room for the second Motion for reconsideration,” the brief says. “Adhere to what was decided by this Court.”

The Supreme Court ruled in October that the statutory requirement of compulsory membership to legitimately practice medicine in Puerto Rico is unconstitutional.

“The absence of compulsory membership does not affect in any way the structuring of the regulatory model in medicine,” Associate Justice Edgardo Rivera García wrote in a concurring opinion. “Demanding this requirement, which unnecessarily undermines the right not to associate without complying with the requirements for it, represents an impermissible outcome in our constitutional order.”

The controversy originated when Dr. Héctor Luis Delucca Jiménez filed a lawsuit against the Physicians & Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Delucca Jiménez argued that compulsory membership infringed on his right to freedom of association and expression.

In contrast, Chief Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez expressed in her dissenting opinion that voluntary membership is not effective. She argued that, although the board has the power in law to regulate the profession, it needs the Association and compulsory membership to do so properly.

“In summary, I have evaluated the constitutionality of the requirement of compulsory membership of the Association in the light of strict scrutiny, considering the two pressing interests of the State,” she wrote.” First, despite sharing duties and powers related to the regulation of the profession with the Board, the reality is that the Board cannot regulate the profession on its own in an effective and viable manner.”

“Although in theory it is empowered by law to regulate the profession, it does not constitute the least onerous, effective and viable measure, and it needs the Association and compulsory membership to fulfill its duties,” the chief justice added. “Second, the Association has multiple duties and powers aimed at fulfilling the compelling interest of safeguarding public health that it does not share with the Board.”

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